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Meron Estefanos @meronina
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Thread: As a refugee advocate & doing my radio program 'Voices of Eritrean Refugees' since 2008, I have met many refugees whose stories has given me many sleepless nights and had me often question humanity. I will try to share as many stories as I can.
1, Keshi Okbay (Priest Okbay) was a 36 years old man, comes from a very rural area in #Eritrea. After serving in the military service for many years he decided to leave the country and made it to #Sudan, he was then kidnapped at the border by a group of Rashida
1/1, they took him to a house and there he met 28 other kidnapped Eritrean refugees in they chained all 29 together and put them in a pick up truck and covered them with blankets and started driving. After 13 days they arrived in Sinai and sold the group at an auction.
1/2, A Bedouin trafficker who bought the group asked that each have to pay $20 000 ransom, they were given 3 cell phones and they were asked to contact their families and ask for money. The traffickers would torture, starve them for 24 hours and often this is done while they are
1/3, on phone with their loved ones, this way they pressure the families to pay as fast as they can just to avoid the phone calls. So back to Keshi Okbay, as I mentioned earlier he comes from a very rural area, his family or anyone in his village does not own a cell phone.
1/4, the only phone number he had was to a person who lives in the next neighboring village, he would call that number and they would tell him to call the next day or two and the person would send a message to his family to come at a certain time and would connect him.
1/5, his family owned 5-6 goats, few caws and same goes to almost every one who lived in his village. In Sinai he was tortured more than the others as he was not on phone often as the rest of the group, he had no other number to call which meant more torture.
1/6, His village decided to save the only priest they had in the area, so the whole village sold everything they owned and could raise about $10 000 which was not enough to save him. So his sister goes to the next village and asked for help, and the 2nd village were willing..
1/7, willing to help and sold everything they owned and came up with $9500, so now they had $19 500 and the sister contacted the kidnappers and she was asked to give the money to a person in Mendefera city and she did, days later she was told to send remaining $500..
1/8, if she did not send the remaining 500 dollars they threatened to harvest his organs & sell it to the highest bidder, so she decided to go to the 3rd near by village to collect the remaining ransom. Mean while while the family were doing their best to get the ransom demanded
1/9, Keshi Okbay's health kept deteriorating, the torture intensified. He was hated more than anyone in the group as he was a Christian priest and always encouraged the group to stay hopeful, prayed for all of them. One early morning I received a phone call from the group and
1/10, I was told that the Bedouins had hanged him in the ceiling for 3 days and that he passed away, the group gave me the only phone number he had and told me to notify the family. I remember how nervous I was at the thought of contacting the family and tell them their son
1/11, had died over the phone, I was not sure who I would be speaking to. After a day I finally made the phone call and spoke to his sister who just had returned from a near by village with the remaining money. That phone call was the beginning of many phone calls like that 4 me
1/12, 3 poor Eritrean villages got poorer, lost all their belongings to save one life and unfortunately Keshi Okbay was not lucky. His body was dumped somewhere in the desert, and I remember how envy the rest of the group were of him as his suffering had ended.
1/13, all I remember is my last conversation with him and how weak his voice had gotten and how he comforted me every time I cried and the scream of his sister when I told her he had died still haunts me. Rest in peace Keshi Okbay #ForeverInMyHeart
1/14, You can listen to This American Life podcast to learn more about this group…
1/15, I will do some positive updates on the podcast➡️ on Semhar and Biniam later on ❤️
2nd story, this is one of those stories that I have been following for years and one that still enrages me, and should enrage all Eritreans. Here is an article that you can read about the story that I am about to share…
2/1 Mulugeta joined the Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF) at the age of 15, his 5 older brothers had already joined years before him and sister was the only one left to take care of his parents. Sadly all his 5 brothers were martyred fighting for Eritrea's independence and
2/2, Mulugeta was the only one in his family who made it back only to find his mother in an empty house, his father and sister had died few years ago. Just few months after independence Mulugeta started questioning the new Eritrean interim government and was Imprisoned 7 times.
2/3, he would often question certain things and was always saying 'is this what my 5 brothers paid their lives for'. This kind of remarks had gotten him to see 7 underground prisons from 1991 to 1994, finally 1994 he was military discharged and started leading a normal life.
2/4, 1998 when a new war broke out with Ethiopia, Mulugeta didn't hesitate to defend his country the country that his brothers had died for. He asked to be reinstated and joined the military again and lucky he made it out alive and got married had 6 kids with his wife.
2/5, Mulugeta was leading a battalion and often was loved by the conscripts unlike the other leaders. End of 2012 Mulugeta had returned to his post after a month of vacation and noticed one of the young conscripts was missing and when he asked about him, he was told that he was
2/6, that he was assassinated for thinking to flee and he was asked to sign a document saying that he had approved the assassination and Mulugeta refused to sign. Again he was arrested for refusing to sign and was punished in a worst condition like being tied to a tree covered
2/7, covered in a sugar, tied to a tree in one of the hottest places on earth for days. This kind of punishment is often applied to humiliate you and Mulugeta had to endure this kind of punishment for over a year, until they managed to brake his dignity and all confidence.
2/8, Mulugeta had gotten very sick and weak and started to receive treatment and became a regular visitor at the hospital in Keren, so one day he saw an opportunity and managed to escape and said his goodbyes to his family and escaped to Sudan. He arrived in Sudan safely and
2/9, and asked his good friend to go to hi house and to bring his two oldest daughters (age 13 and 15), the friend went to his house and as promised he brought them to Khassala/Sudan. They decided a meeting place and when Mulugeta went to the meeting place he was ambushed by
2/10, ambushed by a group of Rashidas and he saw that his daughters were chained to each other, Mulugeta did his best to defend himself and his daughters and unfortunately that night he had to see his beloved daughters get raped in front of his eyes he was unconscious for 21 days
2/11, 20 days later Mulugeta woke up in Sinai/Egypt only to see himself in chains with a group of Eritreans that he has never seen before and slowly u remembered his girls and started asking about them, the traffickers brought his girls and gang raped them in front of him.
2/12, every time he saw his daughters get gang raped and there was nothing he could do as he was chained with about 50 hostages, his only reaction was that he would be unconscious for days and he would ask for his daughters and he had to see them get raped over and over again
2/13, each time he would get unconscious and relive same thing over and over again until he stopped asking about his girls. Meanwhile the ransom demanded for them was US $40 000 each, which meant $120 000 for 3 of them. Back home in Eritrea Mulugeta does not know that his wife
2/14, war pregnant with their 7th child. We have this thing in Eritrea where if one family member leaves the country, the parents has to pay 50 000 Nakfa, stay in prison or bring back the person. So Mulugeta's poor pregnant wife is arrested & asked to pay 150 000 Nakfa for all 3
2/15, By this time Mulugeta has totally lost his mind and was totally out of reach, the family does not have any relative in the west that could help. So diaspora Eritreans from the same village started collecting money and manage to raise $40 000 and decided that they pay for
2/16, the youngest daughter first and the Bedouin kidnappers asked that the money is given to a middle man in Dubai which they did, later on they were told by the kidnappers that the middle man had disappeared with the $40 000 & they had to pay again. There was nothing they could
2/17, do but to start collecting all over again and manage to raise another $40 000. They wired the money to Israel and asked for the release of the youngest daughter first, but the kidnappers afraid that no one would pay for Mulugeta they decided to release him first instead
2/18, as mentioned above Mulugeta was totally out of touch and had no say in what was happening, he was dumped at the border of Israel and was rescued by Israeli soldiers even though the Israeli fence was built at that time. For the next 5 months Mulugeta was out of touch.
2/19, by this time his daughters believed that he must have died since they didn't hear from him, I remember the first time I interviewed the girls they told me that their father had died. When Mulugeta finally regained his conscious & contacted me and asked me to find his girls
2/20, I told him that they were alive but believes he had died, he decided to make them continue believe that he is dead: afraid that the kidnappers might ask for more money. I went to visit Mulugeta in Israel, here is my picture with him.
2/21, for one whole year Mulugeta collected, borrowed lots of money first for the release of his daughters and also for his Imprisoned wife who gave birth in Eritrea. By this time both the girls had lost hope and their mind, the kidnappers had removed all their nails
2/22, burned their hairs with gasoline, their buddies were so infected that insects were coming out, oldest daughter was pregnant and gave birth to a dead baby. After a year and half of captivity we finally managed to pay their ransom and the girls were dumped near Israeli fence
2/23, they were found by Egyptian military and they charged them for entering the country illegally even though they were brought to Egypt by force, they were in prison in El Arish Egypt for about 7 months. Their only way out was to be deported back to Eritrea or stay in prison.
2/24, after lots of hustle we managed to convince the Ethiopian embassy in Egypt to divert the deportation to Ethiopia instead and the girls were finally deported to Ethiopia. An old Ethiopian angel decided to take in them and she took care of them just as they were hers.
2/25, the youngest daughter left to Sudan without telling anyone, using the zero down payment to Libya: which means you don't have to pay anything until you reach Libya. On their way to Libya, the whole group gets kidnapped by Chadians and she had to relieve same torture and rape
2/26 After 3 months of torture, humiliation, she finally contacted her father Mulugeta and asked him to pay her ransom of $6000 and also for the trip. Poor Mulugeta paid and finally his little girl made it to Sweden and I became her legal guardian.
2/27,she is now doing well after 3 years of struggle to process her trauma, separation and depression, she is now a happy young lady. Using family reunification the whole family just finally reunited and are now going to spend Christmas and new years with me ❤️
2/28, if you want to learn more about our Christmas and new years celebration tradition, here is an article by @ikushkush who spent one holiday with us.…
Story number 3 is about Ethiopians who gets kidnapped, though all their stories are heart breaking and unfortunately I can't share all of them. For now I will start with the story of Mola, as his story is one of the most haunting stories that I have ever encountered.
3/1, Mola was an Oromo refugee in Sudan who fled violence in his region in Ethiopia, someone offered to help find him a job. Hoping to start working he went to the address that was given to him by some friends, he was chained as soon as he entered the house.
3/2, when the kidnappers found out he was Ethiopian, he was told to say that he is Eritrean or that they would harvest his organs and sell it to the highest bidder. The kidnappers are not interested by non Eritreans as they believe Eritreans are the only ones who pay ransom.
3/3, often Ethiopians would get kidnapped by mistake in Sudan and after lots of torture the kidnappers would convince them to say they are Eritreans until they are auctioned off to traffickers in Egypt, the traffickers will find out that u r not Eritrean often after you are sold.
3/4, the traffickers don't want to bother in torturing Ethiopians for ransom, so often the Ethiopian hostages were there just to be killed as an example and to scare Eritreans that this is what would happen to them if they don't pay the ransom.
4/4,, back to Mola, after he and the rest of the group made it to Sinai and was auctioned off, a trafficker by the name Abu Omar bought them. I remember talking to the group the first day they arrived in the torture camp and I spoke to Mola only one time, days later I was told
4/5, that he was killed in a worst way possible to scare the group. The traffickers first hanged him up side down from a ceiling, put a tube in his anal and poured hot boiling tea until he vomited. They then forced him to drink his vomit until he chocked and died.
What is shocking is that they refused to remove his body for days and he body was still chained with the group for days and his story and the stories of many other Ethiopians who died in Sinai still haunts me. Rest in peace Mola and all others who died same way. #ForeverInMyHeart
5, here is story number 5, this stories are about Hiriyti and about pregnant refugee women who gets kidnapped and who ended up at the torture camps of Sinai. Here is a 2 minutes video introduction about Hiriyti
. Credit to @FeruzLondon and @KidaneAida
5/1, the story of Hiriyti and her husband is one of the stories that will remain in my mind forever. Amanuel after serving for many years in the military service in Eritrea and got fed up and decided to flee the country and made it to Sudan. In Sudan he was leading a normal life
5/2, he worked as a Rugsha driver and had a decent life in Khassala Sudan. As it happens often he was at a wrong place and wrong time and was kidnapped together with many other Eritreans by the Eritrean security service and was taken back to Eritrea, after 4 years in prison.
5/3, he was released by human bondage, meaning if he try to escape again the person who bailed him out of prison gets arrested on his behalf. So his father decides to be that person and Amanuel was released and order to report back to his military place.
5/5, he goes back to his military post i in Forto Sawa and gets tired after few months and decades to escape, until things are settled he hides in the city of Barentu in Eritrea. It is here he meets the love of his life Hiriyti and they got married and lived happy for few months
5/6, some how the secret service found out about Amanuel and luckily someone tipped him off and he managed to escape and get to Sudan safely. Hiriyti as a wife of a wife of an escapee conscript life was tough and she asked Amanuel if she could join him in Sudan, he insisted that
5/7, she doesn't come to Sudan and that she should wait until he reaches somewhere safe first, but Hiriyti who was 4 months pregnant decided to join him. Sadly as soon as she reached Sudan she was kidnapped and was sold to the Bedouins in Sinai before meeting her husband in Sudan
5/8, after Hiriyti and the other hostages arrived in Sinai/Egypt, they were then auctioned of to the highest bidder and the trafficker who bought them is called Abu Abdallah. One of the cruelest trafficker, I mean they are all cruel but he was the worst of them all.
5/9, the ransom demanded for this group was $33 000 each and for Hiriyti and her husband this was nearly impossible. So Amanuel who is in Sudan and has no job, with no other family member who could help them. Amanuel decided to go to Sinai and to either try to get her out
5/10, Or to hire someone who can help free her for a lesser amount of money, so he pays smugglers to take him to Sinai and gets there. Once he got there he realized it was impossible and decided to go to Israel since there was no return back, at this time Israel had completed
5/11, The fence and had implemented the 2nd or 3rd Anti Infiltrators Law, for more on Israel read 'Tortured in Sinai, Jailed in Israel: Detention of Slavery and Torture survivors Under the Anti-Infiltration Law' a report written by the amazing @SigalRozen…
5/12, So the above law affected Amanuel which meant indefinite prison or deportation back to Eritrea, while this was going we were filming for our film Sound of Torture and those of you who have not seen it you can follow the story on Netflix. Amanuel appealed to an Israeli judge
5/13, the judge felt sorry for Amanuel and gave him a 2 months freedom to go work or raise money to free his wife. Meanwhile Hiryti in Sinai who is 4 months pregnant is getting tortured for 24 hours a day and getting threatened that she better pay the ransom before she gave birth
5/14, If she don't pay before that, her ransom will double up and instead she would pay for herself and another ransom for the baby, she is tired, starved, she gets raped daily and poor Amanuel has to listen over the phone as this goes on at times.
5/15, as we are filming a Brazilian angel who doesn't want to be mentioned hears about their story through our film director and decided to pay all the remaining ransom, by this time Hiriyti had given birth to their beautiful son Rae (Vision). Both was released and was dumped
5/16, dumped at the Israeli border and by some luck they ended up on the Israeli soil and was welcomed and was given food and water. After about 8 hours they were told that a car will come to take them to the refugee camps, at this time Israel was secretly hot returning refugees
5/17, back to Egypt, poor Hiriyti, her son and the other survivors were sent back to Egypt and were charged with entering Egypt illegally. Which means that they are in prison for indifinate time or be deported back to your country, so Hiriyti and Rae are deported back to Eritrea
5/18, Hiriyti is in Eritrea and she found out that her mother had died while she was held captive, and also that the mother had borrowed money from people for the release of Hiriyti. People wanted back their money, Hiriyti could not afford to pay anyone, Amanuel is back in prison
5/19, So Hiriyti again makes it to Sudan and this time luckily she arrived safely and lived with the help from people who saw our film & every year around Christmas we have raised money for her on my weekly radio program 'Voices of Eritrean Refugees' who sent their contributions
5/20, directly to her in Sudan, so back to Amanuel. By this time there is a new Anti Infiltrators Law again and this time Israel decides if we can't send them home let's send them elsewhere & makes a secret deal with Uganda and Rwanda. Unfortunately Amanuel is deported to Uganda
5/21, Amanuel had received $3500 from the Israeli government when deported and using that money he made it to Istanbul. He was unlucky, by this time EU had made a deal with Turkey and Greece to block refugees, so Amanuel gets stuck for almost 2 years in Lesbos Iceland in Greece
5/22, I was in Athens last February sitting at a restaurant, crazy thing happens and Amanuel walks in to the same restaurant. What are the chances 😀 here is our picture together ❤️
5/22, so the fate of Amanuel is still unknown, he is still awaiting to receive asylum in Greece and is now living in Athens. Let me conclude Hiriyti and Rae were resettled to Canada few months ago . Sad that Amanuel has still not seen Rae and Hiriyti but am happy for them❤️
Story number 6 is about Sulaiman Abdullah and his mother back home. Sulaiman. Sulaiman one of the 1st round of conscripts and served for 18 years, hoping to get discharged any time. Most of his friends had fled the country and after 18 years of Slavery he decided to leave.
6/1, unfortunately he was kidnapped and was sold in Sinai, the ransom demanded was $38 000 each. His mother back home doesn't work, so she sold the only thing she owned (her house). Her house was worth at least $70 000 but the only offer she received was $30 000 and she sold it.
6/2, she had to borrow the remaining $8000 and became homeless to save her only son. By this time Sulaiman had been in Sinai for over 4 months, tortured in a worst way possible, finally the ransom is paid and the mother is waiting for her son to get released.
6/3, the traffickers told him he will have to wait as there was a 2nd hostage's ransom was about to be paid and that they will release both, sadly the 2nd hostage (Yodit) had died before the payment was made. Often when hostage die, many of their loved ones end up paying ransom
6/4, the traffickers wanted to get paid even though she had died, when her family called to discuss the payment Sulaiman tipped off the family saying don't pay unless you hear her voice. Often the hostages rat at each other, so the traffickers found out and wanted Sulaiman to pay
6/5, to pay their loss which meant he had to pay another $38 000, when his mother called she was told she had to pay 2nd ransom and she said kill him if you have to: I have given everything i own and that there is no way she could pay again.
6/6, Sadly the torture intensified and Sulaiman didn't make it, few hours later I was told of his death from the rest of the hostages. After about 6 months of silence from her son or the traffickers, his mother contacted me and asked me to find the whereabouts of her only son.
6/7, she has been following my weekly program hopping to hear her son's voice in one of my programs, I couldn't tell her that her son had died over the phone.. I just couldn't and promised to call her back if I hear anything, meanwhile I was trying to find someone back home who
6/8, who could go in person and notify her the traditional way. Unfortunately it took months to find out where in Asmara she was living, once I found out the area and I was given phone number of a neighbor. I called the neighbors and asked if they could notify her, all got afraid
6/9, everyone was afraid to tell her, afraid of the question of how they found out which meant Meron from Radio Erena has been in touch with them. At last I found 2 brave young men who were willing, at 5 am in the morning they knocked at the house and they didn't even need to
6/10, they didn't need to say anything, she opened the door and said 'did Meron send you?' and they nodded. She started screaming and few hours later she called me and thanked me for giving her closure. 6 months later the mother calls me which was surprising
6/11, she said she called to say hi but I could hear shame in her voice, she wanted to say something but was hesitant. At last she said 'my daughter Meron I am about to became homeless again as I can't pay rent anymore and asked if I could raise some money for her in my program'
6/12, the shame she felt is the saddest feeling I have ever felt, so every year around this time we raised funds to help Sulaiman's mother and Hiriyti. If there is anyone who would like to give, please let me know and I can connect you to his mother directly. RIP Sulaiman ❤️🙏
Story number 7 is about an 8 years old Ahlam who was kidnapped together with her mother and uncle, you can listen to my discussion with Ahlam and Adem. (English subtitles) Ahlam has touched so many people all over the world.
7/1, Here is an article by my amazing friend @jonamorem…

And here is the 1st update on the case as well…
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